Thursday, June 9, 2011

Secret Weapon of a Reformed Introvert

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My name is Carol Anne. I am a fraidy cat. I hate doing anything new. Especially if it involves people.  I know. I never meet a stranger. I make friends at the grocery store and dentist office. It's just a big show. On the inside, I'm a quivering mass of jello. I manage to make it look good on the outside.

In my mid-twenties, I developed a coping method that works for me--usually.  I call it the, "Oh There  you are! I've been looking for you," method.  I was in a newly formed social group. I noticed some folks who  hung around the edges and never really said much.  Invariably, they either felt ignored or got ignored, left, and never came back.

Then, there was the other group. I guess you and I look at them as the cool 'in crowd, the popular clique. I watched and pondered and realized the simple difference between the two. The 'in crowd' worked the room like politicians. In a delicate social dance, they bobbed, weaved, schmoozed, and glad-handed calling everyone by name. They made everyone feel like someone whose presence was anticipated with pleasure.  The engagement was not about the social butterfly. It was about the object of his or her attention at any given moment.

Courtesy D. Scott
I decided to run my own social experiment.  A couple of folks who had been part of the group longer than me were pleasant. Meaning:  they tolerated me and made polite conversation on an as needed basis. I decided to leverage those banal contacts. I began to say, "Hi! How you been this week?" Then, I'd try to remember something about a previous snippet of conversation we'd had and refer back to it.  Invariably that prolonged our casual exchange.

Emboldened, I'd move in for the social kill as it were. I'd whip out my secret weapon with, "By the way, who is that girl/fella over there in the _______ outfit with the _______ colored hair?"  In doing so, I'd snag another name. I'd immediately (before I forgot the name) approach that person and say, "Hello, _______, I haven't had the chance to meet you before. My name is Carol Anne. How long have you been part of the group?"  In no time, I knew every name in the group of 50 or so. 

Oh, I hated it. Every single second of it.  I'd argue with myself before every event reminding myself what a loner and looser I was.  It was as if the good girl was on one shoulder egging me on, and the bad one was on the other trying to scare me into quitting. Boy, did they go at it.  I'd drag myself out of my apartment one more time promising me I'd NEVER do it again.

When I'd get to an event, I'd focus on whose name I needed to learn that week. Somehow in the exercise of making others feel as if I was excited that they were there, I'd forget about me and my social awkwardness and enjoy myself.  I'd repeat the process the next week. Whether I wanted to or not! Believe me, I didn't want to. I still don't!

Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010
Over the years, I guess I've gotten pretty good at it. Not too long ago, I was at a large event of  40 or so.  A leader came up and said, "There is a new member here who is about to leave. She doesn't know anyone and thinks no one is friendly. I know you can help."  So, I took the lady around and introduced her to people I'd known for a while and people I was meeting right along with her. In time, she became an officer in that group. The leader marveled about that for a few years. So did I.  If only she knew what a fraidy cat I was!

Last week I was at an event that is new to me. It was my second visit. One of the gals said, "Why do you call yourself a fraidy cat? You look frighteningly normal to me!"  (I asked if I could quote her on that! My therapist will be so proud!) If only she knew that four months ago, I could barely stand a trip to the grocery store for fear I'd embarrass myself socially.  Now, here I am putting myself out there again. Asking for rejection again and expecting to get it. Clinging to my secret weapon and hoping it will serve me well. Fighting the good fight with the good and bad girls on my shoulders.

Tonight, I decided to share my secret weapon with you.  So, the next time we meet, you will know the truth. Without my mask, I am a fraidy cat who expects you to reject me.  I'll do my best to make you believe our encounter is all about you and nothing to do with me. Let me know how that's working for me, will ya?

Philippians 1: 3
I thank my God every time I remember you.

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